Rising unemployment in the pandemic has exacerbated food insecurity for many individuals. In response to our pledge of “hands to larger service,” 4-Hers have joined with members of the Fairfield community to grow produce for local food banks.
As a Fairfield County 4-H senior with interests in natural sciences and community service, I was excited to merge my passions through volunteering at the Fairfield Garden for Food Banks. When I began my first job of leaf removal and planting, I wore my 4-H Fair t-shirt (in addition to a face mask). I soon discovered that the organizer of the project, Sharon Brodeur Pistilli, was a 4-H alumna, formerly of the Bethlehem Busy Stitchers! This connection was no coincidence, as 4-H shapes individuals with a lifelong passion for healthy living and giving back through service.
With Sharon’s energetic leadership, many others have joined the Fairfield Garden for Food Banks Initiative.
Over the past month, the group has planted kale, lettuce, pole beans, tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, broccoli, eggplant, squash, radishes, and carrots. Sharon Pistilli organized donations of seedlings and gardening supplies. A Fairfield resident graciously offered her garden space. Over a dozen volunteers have helped with weeding, daily watering, and harvesting while maintaining social distancing guidelines.
On June 24, I had the chance to see the culmination of the group’s hard work, with a delivery of four gallon-size bags of fresh lettuce, three bags of kale, and radishes to Operation Hope in Fairfield. Other recipients will include Semilla Collective in New Haven and nOURish Bridgeport, which provide food to clients either in a Community kitchen or food bank capacity.
Volunteering at the garden has brought community to my life at a time when I would have otherwise felt isolated and disconnected. As I dig into soil and place seeds in the ground, I can reconnect with nature and the world around me. Creating a mound around each squash plant, which 4-H Alumna Sharon Pistilli calls a “dirt-hug,” is an opportunity to give my community a hug: to reach out to insecure families and invest both my hands and heart in larger service.
The Fairfield Garden for Food Banks is an example of how the 4-H Program nourishes the individual and fosters community. 4-Hers of multiple generations have partnered with volunteers and food banks, growing fresh produce to respond to a growing need. While apart, we have come together to maintain a garden, and in doing so, nurture our pledges to one another.
Article by Harper Treschuk, Fairfield County 4-H Member
The Lower Fairfield County Master Gardener Program wants to partner with you! Whether you are already a passionate gardener who would like to take your learning to the next level, a beginning gardener in search of a knowledgeable resource, or a community/group with a gardening need, the Master Gardener program is here for you.
The program has been growing strong for more than 40 years. Certified UConn Extension Master Gardeners complete rigorous horticultural training, including both online and classroom education followed by 60 hours of diagnostic Plant Clinic service and volunteer outreach.
Master Gardener (MG) volunteers are popping up everywhere throughout Fairfield county and across the state as they provide leadership, participate in field projects, give presentations and eagerly share their love of gardening while working side-by-side with community volunteers.
A few examples of our partnerships include the blooming Pollinator Pathway project, which started locally and is quickly extending across the Northeast. Many MGs have spearheaded Pollinator Pathway initiatives in their hometown. You can also find MGs at the root of Wakeman Town Farm’s educational programs and as volunteer guides and partners in land management at Farm Creek Nature Preserve.
Come to Plant Clinic so we can help you to weed out your gardening issues. We are available online at this time at lowerfairfieldMG@gmail.com.
Master Gardeners provide their guidance and resources at no charge to the public. As a self-funded UConn Extension program, any donations are appreciated, particularly in these challenging times. Tax deductible donations can be made. Let’s continue to grow together!
Article by: Pat Carroll UConn Extension Master Gardener Coordinator, Lower Fairfield County
Craft Fair and Open House Celebrates the 40th Anniversary of the UConn Extension Master Gardener Program
Date: Saturday, October 6, 2018
(rain date Saturday, October 13)
Time:9:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.
Where: Fairfield County Extension Office and Grounds
67 Stony Hill Road (Route 6), Bethel, Connecticut
The UConn Extension Master Gardener Program is celebrating 40 years as the premier example of a Master Gardener Program in the United States with a craft fair and open house. This outdoor event is free and open to the public. Expert Master Gardeners will give tours and demonstrations, and answer gardening questions. Vendors, many showcasing the creative endeavors of our Master Gardeners, will be offering a variety of gardening and nongardening crafts and goods for sale to benefit the UConn Extension Master Gardener Program.
The day will feature:
Tours and demonstrations
Walking tour and talk at the Extension Demonstration Vegetable Garden.
An 80-ft. by 100 ft. Demonstration Vegetable Garden on the Fairfield County Agricultural Extension Center site, built and maintained by Master Gardener mentors and interns, is used to teach the importance of current best practices in gardening and horticulture, and also donates its weekly harvest to local food pantries.
Learn how you can make and maintain your own backyard compost with easy to build bins and a few simple steps.
Invasive Plant Guided Walk
Learn to spot the invasive plants trying to take over Connecticut’s gardens and natural areas. Find out which plants are considered invasive and why, and how they got here. Learn design alternatives for these aggressive invaders.
Meet our Master Gardeners! Get answers to your questions about your gardens, lawns, trees, plants and insects. Learn how you too can become a Master Gardener.
All About Composting
Master Composters answer questions about backyard and worm composting, explain why it is important to reduce the waste sent to landfills, and how individuals and communities benefit from making compost.
Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station/UConn Forest Pest Education
Learn about the Asian Long-horned Beetle, Emerald Ash Borer, and how Connecticut is battling these and other threats to our trees and forests.
As of this writing vendors will be offering for sale:
- Vintage costume jewelry
- Natural-dye yarns and scarves
- Alpaca wool and products
- Botanical stationery and notecards
- “White Elephant” table of gardening and other items
- Used gardening books
- A specialty rake
- Tillisandia’s glass globes and fairy gardens
- Painted rock art
- Hand-crafted wooden bowls and other items
- Floral design kits
- Meet the author of Success with Hydrangeas: A Gardener’s Guide Book(B&B Publications, 2017), Connecticut horticulturist, garden writer, speaker and Advance Master Gardener Lorraine Ballato.
- Bid on our Silent Auction gardening and specialty items.
And much more!
The UConn Extension Master Gardener Program is an Educational Outreach Program that is part of UConn Extension, College of Agriculture, Health and Natural Resources, University of Connecticut. Started in 1978, the program consists of horticulture training and an outreach component that focus on the community at large. Master Gardeners are enthusiastic, willing to learn and share their knowledge and training with others. What sets them apart from other home gardeners is their special horticultural training. In exchange for this training, Master Gardeners commit time as volunteers working through their local UConn Extension Center and the Bartlett Arboretum in Stamford to provide horticultural-related information to the community. The staff and volunteers of the UConn Extension Master Gardener Program and the UConn Home & Garden Education Center are informational resources for the residents of Connecticut and beyond, who are urged to contact us for accurate, thorough, and timely information on home and garden topics.
The cooperative extension system connected to land-grant universities was established in 1914. Before the 1970s, extension horticulture programs focused on crop production. In the early 1970s Washington State University Extension agents, responding to increased public demand for gardening information through an urban horticulture program, proposed recruiting and training volunteers to respond to gardeners’ questions as a way to serve the needs of home and community gardeners. Although initially met with skepticism, the first Master Gardener training classes were offered to about 200 people in 1973. Today, Master Gardener programs are active in all 50 states, nine Canadian provinces, and in South Korea. According to a 2009 survey, 94,865 Extension Master Gardener volunteers throughout the United States contributed 5,197,573 hours educating the public, providing youth programs, and facilitating produce donations to food banks, an estimated contribution of $101.4 million to the public.
The New Year ushered in a new crop of interns aspiring to become certified Master Gardeners. Classes began January 11th. The Bethel and New Haven classes alternate locations each year, and the 2018 class is being held in New Haven County at the Edgerton Park Carriage House. Both the New Haven County and Fairfield County coordinators work together each year facilitating the classes.
This year’s class has 40 students, the majority of whom will be completing their community outreach in New Haven County. However, at least a half dozen or more interns from the class are expected to complete their office internship in the Bethel office and complete their community outreach in Fairfield County.
2018 is the 40th anniversary of the Master Gardener Program in Connecticut. In addition, this is the first year the new hybrid Master Gardener classes are being rolled out. This year, students will be completing a substantial portion of the program online, where they have access to presentations and class materials that can be viewed asynchronously. After they view the week’s assigned material, they come to class, where discussions of the material, hands on activities, and workshops that supplement the material are held. Various activities are led by instructors and coordinators, assisted by certified Master Gardener volunteers.
To date, the new format seems to be working well. Students seem to be accessing the material, taking online quizzes, and coming to class energized ready to participate in discussions on the material and in hands on activities.
Classes are scheduled to run through the end of April, but are subject to an extension if weather creates any issues.
By Sandi Wilson, Fairfield County Master Gardener Coordinator
Sandi Wilson, Fairfield County Master Gardener Coordinator, spotlights three of the signature projects that volunteers have been working on:
In November the Master Gardeners were putting the garden to bed for the season. Each year, they analyze what worked and what didn’t in the garden and begin to formulate their plan for next year. The demo garden team decided that the apple and pear trees were too high maintenance and in order to be fruitful would require more inputs than what this low maintenance and organic minded team desired. They removed the trees and will be substituting native paw paws that they hope will thrive with less care and inputs. The irrigation system worked great this year, and the crew made a few additional adjustments to the system to improve its efficiency.
As you know the Master Gardeners donate all the vegetables and herbs it produces to area food banks. In 2016, 656 pounds of produce, plus bundled herbs and flowers were donated to local organizations. In 2017, despite a slow start because of cool weather, the garden ultimately yielded 755 pounds of produce! The following organizations received donations during the season: Newtown Social Services, and the Faith Food Pantry in Newtown, The Brookfield Pantry, Friends of Brookfield Seniors, and the St James Daily Bread Pantry in Brookfield, and the Salvation Army in Danbury. This garden is not only a beautiful example of a working and productive vegetable garden, it is also used as a teaching tool for the community. Every Saturday, docent led tours are given to the public, who frequent the Farmer’s Market also held on the grounds. Master Gardeners teach Integrated Pest Management practices, cultural techniques, and other sustainable practices to visitors.
The Giving Garden – Brookfield, CT
This organic vegetable garden was established in 2010. Various Master Gardeners have participated in planting, maintaining, and harvesting this teaching garden over the years. Close to 1,000 pounds of produce is harvested from the garden each year and donated to area food pantries and soup kitchens! Primary recipients of the produce include food pantries in Brookfield, Danbury, and New Milford, and the Dorothy Day Soup Kitchen in Danbury. The garden is also used as a teaching garden for other Master Gardeners and the public. It is also frequented by area high school “key club” members who learn about sustainable practices, IPM methods, and the importance of volunteerism.
The Victory Garden – Newtown, CT
Master Gardeners are also involved with this 1/2 acre community garden that shares the bounty at the Fairfield Hills Campus. The garden started 8 years ago offers rows which are adopted by Girl Scout and Boy Scout troops, Ability Beyond Disability, and other community groups. The vegetables, fruits and flowers grown are donated to the Faith Food Pantry, Nunnawauk Meadows, a low income senior housing facility, and to Newtown Social Services.
Originally published by Naturally@UConn on December 16, 2014
Written by: Kim Markesich
The Fairfield County Extension Center hosts a variety of gardening programs, and the season just past was a successful and bountiful one.
With the support of a five-year grant from USDA/NIFA’s Children, Family, and Youth at Risk Program (CYFAR), Edith Valiquette, 4-H youth development educator, coordinates an urban 4-H garden program for sixth through eighth grade students at Barnum Elementary School in Bridgeport. German Cutz, associate extension educator, serves as principal investigator for the grant.
Students attend the program four hours each week during the school year and eight hours a week during the summer. The curriculum focuses on gardening, workforce readiness and technology.
Students learn about nutrition, gardening and healthy meal preparation while working together as a group. They explore agriculture by visiting local farms and participate in community service projects. Students designed, filmed and edited videos to teach healthy eating and used these guides to mentor younger students. Students also participated in a Christmas program presented in nursing homes.
“The program allows kids to have fun while learning valuable skills such as leadership and life skills,” says Valiquette. “The program brings these 4-H opportunities to urban neighborhoods.”
The group produced 2,000 pounds of vegetables in 24 raised beds. Their carrots won Best of Show at the Fairfield County 4-H Fair. A portion of the harvested produce is used for cooking classes, while the remainder is sent home with students to supplement family meals.